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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Yahoo! stokes the flames of Internet media with a new attempt at bringing a TV-like show to the Web on Monday with the launch of "Burning Love," a comedy spoof of reality show "The Bachelor" that has the backing of Ben Stiller.
Produced with Paramount's Insurge Pictures and Stiller's Red Hour Productions, the series is a succession of 7 to 10-minute episodic shorts that parody the popular reality competition in which women vie for the affection of a single man.
Dating to the 2000s with shows like "Quarterlife," Internet and media companies have tried to bring TV-like experiences to the web but many attempts failed. In fact, the big hits have come to people like Justin Bieber, who became a YouTube sensation then leveraged that success into a mainstream career.
But executives at Yahoo!, which has come under new management in recent weeks, believe the growing use of tablets such as the iPad and media-friendly mobile phones make the Web fertile ground for entertainment that may ultimately lure more advertising dollars.
"We're in the midst of a tipping point to take long-form, primary experiences from TV and get them online, onto tablets and smartphones ... Digital entertainment is here to stay whether we like it or not," Erin McPherson, vice president and head of Video Programming and Originals at Yahoo!, told Reuters.
McPherson calls "Burning Love," "an homage to the classic genre of TV reality shows."
With cameos from Stiller and his wife, actress Christine Taylor, the Web comedy stars Kristen Bell, Michael Ian Black, Adam Scott and features an appearance by Jennifer Aniston in a panda suit.
The mock-series spins the conventions and style of the archetypal dating show into farce. It is the story of a single, seducing man - a fireman by trade - set on a mission to find his perfect lover among 14 non-traditional contestants. There is a 90-year-old, a transvestite, a woman who wears no pants, a closeted lesbian and Aniston's panda.
"Burning Love" concludes when one lovely lady receives the fireman's final "hose" in a lampoon of "The Bachelor's" traditional rose ceremony.
"For people who enjoy reality shows, it embraces the tone and vibe and all the tropes of that type of show in a fun way," Ken Marino, the show's star and director told Reuters.
The creators also incorporated raunchy misadventures, surprise cameos and ultra-racy content that plays with crassness and audacity in a way prohibited by broadcasters that must adhere to network standards.
In addition, the lead character has an active Twitter account to update fans and followers on show developments.
McPherson believes Yahoo!'s approach to online video will bring the network to the forefront of not only digital broadcasting but network production.
Though Yahoo! began as a search engine and still functions that way, competition from the likes of Google and others as well as trends in the general public toward more online video usage has led it to embrace content distribution and production.
In addition to "Burning Love," Yahoo! will debut Tom Hanks' first digital program, "Electric City," later this year, and it has also partnered with "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" creator and producer Anthony E. Zuiker to make "Cybergeddon," an online motion picture chronicling the rise of cyber crime.
"Yahoo! is poised to occupy the middle ground, which really is the future of media. We are powered by technology; we employ a technology-driven experience ... and we respect content," McPherson said.
For artists like Black, the melodramatic host of "Burning Love" and an entertainer who has navigated the worlds of film, television, print and now digital media, it's the creative liberties online that prove its major drawing point.
"Specifically for comedy, it's where a lot of the best work is being done," he said. "Comedy and the Internet are sort of a perfect match because of the way comedy is structured, you can just enjoy something for three minutes and then get out. A lot of comedians are finding they have a tremendous amount of creative freedom that they wouldn't have on television."
Black found his niche on the Web by creating a podcast with his friend and former "Ed" co-star, Tom Cavanagh, called "Mike and Tom Eat Snacks."
Like McPherson, he believes that while money in the fledgling world of digital media may not yet be fully apparent, it is coming.
"Everyone is trying to figure out how to monetize web shows. They still can't compare to television because there's not enough viewers," Black said. "But it's clearly where media is heading ... In a sense, it's the golden era for creators because everyone is doing it out of passion."
Reporting by Courtney Garcia; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte